The smokey spicy aroma when you walk in the door tells you all you need to know about HooDoo Brown Barbecue. If there is any doubt, the view through the picture window of the honking big smoker seals the deal. It’s all about Texas-style barbecue – slow-cooked “out back” just like its done in the Lone Star State.
Barbecue is smokin’ hot – a popular eating trend within reach of just about every town in our area. Deep rich flavors, slow-cooked tenderness, smoky warmth, and a range of styles and sauces (sometimes reaching cult status), barbecue has wafted out of the south to become a national cooking mania.
If you think I’m overstating the significance of barbecue, I can cite the lofty New York Times to make my case. They sent restaurant reviewer Pete Wells all the way to Austin, Texas to review Franklin Barbecue.
Franklin is a place Wells describes as, “A ragtag and old-timey homage to roadside Americana…painted to look like an overgrown version of (the) trailer,” where Franklin got its start. He goes on to describe the roughly two hour wait (longer on the weekends) in a line that snakes across the parking lot with friendly staff who advise when the coveted meats might run out. Not everyone in the line is a winner.
Brisket, not ribs, is the preferred meat for Texas barbecue. Wells says Franklin’s brisket, “shades from nut brown at the inside, to cherry-jam around the border to black at the crust” with a taste that “combines the fat-bathed richness of fresh beef with the tight focus of meat cured with salt and smoke.”
He liked it!
The meltingly-tender, robustly-flavored, spice-crusted brisket at HooDoo Brown more than met the “worth a trip” standard, even if it was just to Ridgefield. “Wonderfully moist and juicy,” Marsha commented between forkfuls of her perfectly smoked half chicken. A layer of almost-molten fat lay between the spice crust and the savory meat. The chicken, by the way, was also a triumph of the pit master’s art, cooked just enough but not too much, rosey pink in the joints with delicate smoke flavor in every bite.
Dress your barbecue as you like with a choice of a zippy Carolina-style sauce, HooDoo’s sweeter house sauce, or Texas Pete hot sauce.
We started out with a generous square of cornbread, glistening with butter, sweetened just right for me, with honey, I think. A side of collards (braised with turkey necks our server said) had a delicious but enigmatic seasoning. If you can pinpoint the flavors, let me know! A vinegary slaw with apples nicely offset the rich meats.
As you would expect with barbecue, there’s a good selection of beers, both bottled and on tap, all enthusiastically described by our server. We stuck to local brews – Marsha enjoyed the floral and hoppy Two Roads Honeyspot Road IPA from Stratford while I had a pint of bitter and spicy Black Hog, Easy Rye’ Da IPA, from Oxford, CT.
Unlike Wells, or the other fanatic customers at Franklin Barbecue, I’m not willing to wait in a long line for dinner, no matter how good. HooDoo Brown was crowned Best Barbecue by the panel of experts in the January 2017 issue of Connecticut Magazine, adding to the crowds. With a hankering for smoked meats, cornbread and slaw, we journeyed up Rt-7 on a Sunday evening only to be greeted by a packed parking lot and a discouraging 45 minute wait. Enticed by the tantalizing aromas, we returned on a Wednesday and were seated without delay.
You can get good barbecue right here, without trekking to Ridgefield. B. J.Ryan’s BANC House at 16 River Street in Norwalk is our first choice for close-by barbecue. I favor the brisket while Marsha goes for the pulled pork or ribs. Collards are good here, too, along with the baked beans and the slaw. Start with an order of deviled eggs or fried pickles to make the experience all the more down-south.
The much-loved Bobby Q’s in Westport closed last year and announced plans to reopen in Norwalk at Waypoint just off West Ave on Merwin St. I drove by recently to see tables and chairs through the window and a sign out front, but it didn’t look quite ready to open. I wonder what their plans are?
Barbecue lovers have been know to take road trips through the Carolinas on a tour of legendary smokehouses or even go all the way to Texas like The Times did. For us, Ridgefield was as far as we needed to go.